Stars:Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien and Agnes Bruckner
As a woman struggles to come to grips with her past in the wake of her mother's death, an unsettling presence emerges in her childhood home.
Good ghost stories are few and far between, so you may be inclined to bypass the latest American offering in the sub-genre, THE PACT, on your way to more fresh, original shores, but this one is definitely worth a look.
Far from the big budget bombast of INSIDIOUS, this low-budget chiller takes the more subtle route, raising hairs through claustrophobic camerawork and good old fashioned, 'less-is-more' dread.
In essence, THE PACT is a simply told haunted house story, and it does admittedly lack originality in its early scenes, but where it fails to impress as an original tale, it truly shines as an exercise is nuanced atmospherics and style.
Ghost stories will be with us forever, and there's only so many variations on the theme. Of late, filmmakers have to push themselves further in the idea department to keep an audience on their toes. What director Nicholas McCarthy sets his sights on in the first two acts is, instead, a deep sense of unease, punctuated by moments of stark, scary as hell horror. He's a man with a sure eye for what makes a truly frightening film work, and its evident from frame one that this guy has the skills to go all the way.
Not that he hasn't a few tricks up his sleeve. The last third of the film throws us some curve-balls that spice things up in startling ways, but to be honest, by that point, we've been won over regardless. The effectiveness of the early shocks leaves a very strong impression. This film makes for a deeply uneasy watch.
THE PACT opens with a death. That of a mother. We arrive on the scene mere days before the funeral and are quickly introduced to the oldest sibling, whose arrived at the now empty family home, and is awaiting the return of her younger sister to the fold. She spends the night in the family home, despite her misgivings, ( an abusive past is hinted at), and within minutes of the films opening, we're off into seriously creepy shit-ville. The tone is immediate, the atmosphere is perhaps the most claustrophobic since THE DESCENT, and the scares in these early scenes recall the best moments of classic chillers such as THE CHANGELING, JU-ON and EL ORFANTO. You'll know where its headed in the first half, but I honestly cant think of a scarier ghost story to come down the pipe in a number of years.
Recalling early John Carpenter; the camera prowls the old house with sentient and malevolent intent. Half glimpsed or imagined apparitions haunt the sidelines of our vision, and a pitch perfect, old school sound track brings the tension to often terrifying heights. We're in good hands here, folks.
Often, I find that no-matter how enjoyable, or scary, a haunted house movie may be; Ive forgotten it within days or weeks. Occasionally, one will creep inside my psyche, nest itself in my subconscious, and wait patiently for the right time to re-strike, (usually when I'm home all alone with the lights out...the bastard). THE PACT is without doubt one such film. It has a sombre, serious vibe and a palpable menace that really gets under the skin. There are scenes here that mercilessly put the fear in me, and as I mentioned, in the latter stages it does go its own way entirely, and manages to ht even more disturbing depths. The mystery behind the haunting is excellent and had me guessing all the way, and I admit that I was way off track by the end of the piece. Its nice to be pleasantly surprised by such an unpleasantly disturbing film.
All performances are strong, not that there are many. As the lead, Caity Lotz, (a dead ringer for a young Gillian Anderson), is pretty fantastic, and carries the emotional weight of the movie like a pro. Never seen this girl before, but she has real presence, and while her character may be underwritten on the page, she brings real depth onscreen. You don't need to hear of her life story to get a feel for where shes been and who she is. It's all there in behind her eyes.
THE PACT really is one you'll want to catch. If your into the more mainstream ghost stories along the lines of THE MESSENGERS and its ilk, this may not be your thing. This is about suggestion and subtlety, not CG and jump scares. Yet if you like your horror mature, focused, slow burn and serious, this is one hell of a scary time at the movies. The plot and characters are engrossing, the atmosphere is oppressive, the tension is unrelenting from the very start and the final effect is, essentially, haunting.
This is one haunted house I would never want to visit in 'Le Real World'. These inhabitants are not the sort I'd like to spend a night with. In THE PACT, though, its a place I'll be revisiting for sure, next time with the lights on.
Don't watch alone.
8 Ouija Boards out of 10